How does it sound?

It’s easy in today’s online marketing driven world to think that one’s tools are inferior, and that the latest and greatest new THING will help us all become better producers.  It seems like not a week goes by that there’s not some new “leak” of a revolutionary new product just around the corner.  (and on that note, the trend of companies purposely leaking info or some hard to see picture of their forthcoming wares is getting REALLY old).  Naturally many of us will start to feel like the tools we currently use will be lacking in comparison in some way, and we start to think about upgrading or trading in to have the latest and greatest toy that will completely change our workflow and make us better musicians.  Or we read other producers commenting how their rare musical instrument revolutionized the way they work and their output.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another post about G.A.S.

What I really want to talk about, is the need to remember that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is how it sounds coming out of your listeners’ speakers.  What’s the end result, and does it sound good?  While there’s certainly a lot to be said for having tools on hand that allow us to work efficiently or rethink the production process now and then, these things do not matter at all to the people who actually listen to your music (all three of them).  All the end listener cares about, is “how interesting is this?”  “Is this something I really want to listen to?”  The tools you use to create your work don’t matter at all to the listener, many of whom will never know anyway.

Case in point. I remember years ago reading a story about Steve Vai, who was looking to buy a new Strat to use on one of his albums.  Armed with thousands in cash, he set out looking for the best sounding Strat he could find, hitting up all the boutique guitar shops.  Obviously a professional guitar player of his fame is going to be concerned that he has the best guitar tone possible on his latest album.  The funny thing is, at the end of this weeks long search, the guitar that sounded the best to his ears was an entry level Squire Strat that cost about $300, and not a rare decades old axe that cost more than a car.

The point is this, when you take the hype or other people’s opinions out of the equation and just LISTEN, often times the simplest and cheapest tools can be the best for the task at hand.  Other examples:

– It might be fun to get the latest and greatest, most complex synth available to expand your music making arsenal.  Often times you can get something equally as interesting sounding use the built in voice recorder in your phone to make field recordings, or layering multiple synths you already own to do the same thing.

– Do you really need a new piece of percussion made from some rare exotic wood imported from the Swilish people of Brazil on the backs of fresh water dolphins, or will a cheap mic and some household items give you results that are just as sonically interesting?

– Or how about the most common question I see, what did artist x,y,z use to make that famous bassline that spawned an entire new genre of music?  Was it some outrageously expensive and rare synth, or did they use the humble SH101 or a plug in that came with the DAW you already have?  You’d be surprised.

So before you fall into the trap of thinking that newer and more expensive is better, take a step back and really listen to the tools you already have.  Remove the sound of what you hear, from the context of how it was created, and then decide if the latest and greatest is really the best way to solve your problem.  History is full of examples of some of the most famous artists creating works of art that are known as enduring masterpieces using the simplest and most basic tools they had on hand.  If they can do it, you can too.

8 Replies to “How does it sound?”

  1. Nice article. But it doesn’t stop the lust. Gotta get that new shiny.

    Totally agree that too many are believing the hype and need this new that or other.

    Learn what you’ve got to hand. New doesn’t dictate it will be good.

  2. That’s hilarious about Vai: my favorite bass (among some very high-end stuff) is an ’82 Squier P-Bass.

    If you are making finished music to be played back in the listener’s environment, then I agree wholeheartedly with your post. DAW technology hasn’t changed much in years. Computers have gotten faster and plugins more ubiquitous, but the basic DAW workflow is the same. Reason is a great example of a complete environment that’s inexpensive and capable of as much production value as the composer/programmer/songwriter is able to summon.

    It’s important, however, that we acknowledge technological advances in performance hardware. Ableton was a big deal when it came out, and continues to be a major force in electronic music performance, especially now that M4L is on the scene. There have been a number of attempts to make a great performance sampler over the years (MPCs, Yammy SU-700 and RS7k, ESX-1, etc.) and sometimes a new box comes out that DOES change things. You know that of which I speak 🙂

    There is no magic box that’s going to substitute for hard work, spending time with your gear, and working your ass off. But sometimes a new box arrives that inspires you to do these things in a new way, a fresh way.

  3. Plus, I’d like to add to SK’s comments that many of us make music for our own pleasure and enjoyment rather than to ever release something. For those of us who do that, it can be fun to play with new toys, and gear lust is a natural part of any hobby.

    Having said that, it’s usually just as fun to find out what sounds you can get out of your existing ones that you didn’t know about, or to use household items as you said. And it’s much cheaper 🙂

  4. Much cheaper! Anyway, I think my point was more that often times we have some really cool sounds at our disposal, but we might not give them a fair chance based on some other preconceptions we have, or because we maybe put too much stake in what other people think.

  5. Great post, man!

    True. I think Tarekith’s post was also for others to rethink especially new artists getting into this who think that “I need this and this and I will sound awesome!”

    I’ve actually used the same thinking talking to a few people that at the end of the day, the listeners won’t really try to think what type of gear you used and such… possibly later on but once they listen to it, first thing they’d experience is how good it is to listen to or how it sounds. If they dig it, then “possibly” they might try to dig deeper as to how you got that sound… which leads us also to say that some sounds, can still be achieved by using cheaper gear 🙂

  6. Recently I’ve downloaded the new Aalto synth.. its funny that i can’t come to spend the 100$ on it because its just 1 synth.. I bought Komplete 6 for about 450$ because it has soooo many useful tools.

    point: komplete is HUGE bang for your buck. Aalto in demo mode with noise washes every minute or so…………. way way way way more fun/inspirational/”capable per square inch”

    when I have the money it will end up being one of the only other soft synths I buy.. I’m done with plug-ins that require so much non musical work to get creative results.

    spot on review here: http://trashaudio.com/2011/01/aalto-by-madrona-labs/

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